Billy Woods – “Pompeii”

All you did was follow orders.

Today I’ve been making a fascinating journey through History Will Absolve Me, the latest record by DC/NYC rapper Billy Woods, his second solo work in eight years, and my formal introduction to him. It’s a record I stumbled onto out of pure chance, discovering it in my daily music/porn/video games crawl, and becoming rather intrigued by it, the title a line from a famous speech by Fidel Castro and the album cover featuring a younger Robert Mugabe (which I can’t lie, I had to look it up. I mean I know Mugabe but I really only picture him as an old curmudgeon grasping trillions of Zimbabwean dollars). Loading up Spotify I found the record and gave it a shot, and, well…

History is definitely an experience. The closest artist I could say Woods is similar to is El-P, but Woods is most definitely in a class of his own when it comes to cerebral listens. The album is full of grating, visceral productions, and Woods is part visionary, part conspiracy nut, part sociologist, and part gangster, and each side has got a lot to say. Topics covered on the record include the War on Drugs, international imperialism, infidelity, music piracy, the state of rap today, dysfunctional families and more. Woods speaks volumes with every bar, and you’ll be hitting replay just to catch the stuff you missed while marveling over a particular gem. Believe me when I say that this is a record which rewards close listens.

Once I heard “Pompeii” I knew that one, I had to buy this record, and two, I had to post about this one. It is brutal, as Woods draws comparisons between government-sanctioned killers (A concentration camp guard? A high-ranking second second in command to a dictator? Am I way off?) and low-level drug dealers, all just “following orders” and all paying the price as a result. What really makes this a standout is the production, which is utterly unsettling, utilizing the dramatic sting from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This one scares the hell out of me, and I can’t stop listening.